Monday, February 16, 2015

For Further Reading...

     Having seen the film, I purchased a copy of the Turing biography by Andrew Hodges, Alan Turing: The Enigma.

     The film telescopes and combines events, Truth bending to both Art and Time. Hodges does nothing of the sort. A conceptual Turing Machine consists of an infinitely-long tape being read from and written to, or at least an effectively-unlimited tape: it's as long as needs to be to accomplish a given task.  And thus with the biography: it's a massive book, as long as it needs be.

     It is by no means dull; the cryptanalysis efforts at Bletchely Park (and elsewhere) didn't have the super-science scope of the Manhattan Project or the hard-edged engineering of wartime RADAR, advancing by leaps and bounds, but they were no less vital and equally at the leading edge of thought.  Deeply engaged with his subject and a thorough scholar, Hodges provides the reader with both a ringside seat and the well-informed commentary to make sense of the action.

     I'm at about the halfway point, give or take 55 pages of endnotes.  The more I read, the more Turing's habits of thought remind me of the more-direct thinkers I have known.  The annoying, crucial ability to see the essentials of a given situation while ignoring customary or merely ritual elements is a particular quirk of many engineers, scientists -- and programmers.

     The Alan Turing Internet Scrapbook provides a series of glimpses of a man who, more than most others, was a geek's geek, a nerd's nerd, brilliant, unconventional and confidently askew.  Not eccentricity for its own sake but an eccentricity that grew from a way of looking at and thinking about ideas and the world.  


Old NFO said...

Good precis of the book, and I was wondering if it was worth the money. Guess I can add it to the read list. Thanks!

SJ said...

I don't know how good or bad it will seem after a serious biography...

When I read Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson, I was surprised by the number of historical characters who were embedded into the fictional narrative. Including Alan Turing.

The book was full of strange events, madcap adventures, the occasional lecture about cryptography, and hidden treasure. (Including a scene where Turing hides some of his personal stash of silver...which may have been loosely based on a real story.)

I might have to add the biography by Hodges to my "biographies to read" list.